It’s confession time and I am sharing with you one of my most closely guarded, hidden secrets.
In fact, it is so well guarded that people laugh out loud when they hear it.
“Heidi, seriously, you shouldn’t be so dramatic. I mean, look at what you put on Facebook and you have a blog for Pete’s sake!! You stand up in front of people and speak publicly, play music, teach classes. How in the world can you say you are an introvert much less someone who struggles with an often-crippling phobia of social situations? You are totally an extrovert having an off day.”
Ha ha ha…
Unless you live with me and see the fall out when I push too hard and do too much. I know it’s hard to recognize what I am saying, even for those who know me well.
Yet, for the husband holding my hand in a crowded room because he knows I’m 10 seconds away from hyperventilating or the boys telling their friends that this isn’t a good time to come over, there’s not so much laughter. They see it easily.
A phobia is often defined as “an irrational or extreme fear or aversion to something.” For the millions of us who live with a phobia, we understand it is not logical, reasonable, or even based in reality which is easily understood by those who don’t see life through this lens.
Your inability to understand doesn’t make it any less real.
Under the umbrella of phobias, a whole range of mental disorders and quirks fall all haphazardly. Social Anxiety Disorder, one of the most common phobias experienced in America today, is the ball and chain I have carried every day of my life for the past 20+ years.
For those of us who wrestle or for those who don’t wrestle at all, sometimes this battle is obvious and results in declined invitations, turned off phones, and unanswered door bells. Other times it is completely invisible while we walk around looking “normal” but knowing that this exertion, this sacrifice, will cost us dearly.
I can’t tell you how many times I have collapsed on the couch, exhausted after having had a good time, but having battled in my mind the entire time. The unrelenting intensity of second-guessing performance, competence, value, even after having done a good thing, becomes a weight beyond carrying any further.
I live in a constant skirmish of conflicting wills. Choosing between staying home, within the arms of a safe little family, or stepping foot outside the door to engage a world where people live and breathe in unpredictable, often critical, unknown, and, frankly, terrifying blends of scenarios capable of shattering this carefully constructed state of being.
No, I cannot always “power my way through” or “act like it doesn’t exist”. For the times I can, it is never for very long.
If I have done “powered through” for you, consider it one of the highest compliments I can pay.
Does this mean that I don’t like being with people? Does this mean that I am a sweaty mess when I do venture outside? Does this mean I hate the demands of a busy life full of wonderful, confusing, and beautiful faces?
Sometimes it means that I sit in my car for a while before going into the grocery store and while I evaluate how to respond to the possible interaction with the known and the unknown or the people falling somewhere in the middle.
I don’t always answer my phone when the weight of having any conversation is more than I can handle, at the moment.
Often, ok, most of the time, I need to be the 3-hour friend not the weekend away friend.
I will, more than likely, not want to carpool because having an escape route is imperative to even being able to convince myself to come.
“Although they recognize that the fear is excessive and unreasonable, people with social anxiety disorder feel powerless against their anxiety. “ Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
After having spent an hour or so writing out a menu for the week and then the grocery list that went with it, I freshened my lip-gloss, straightened the cute new scarf, and grabbed my purse. I headed out the door; ready to brave the various stores on my list.
On the short drive to the first destination, I mentally rehearse the scenarios I could find myself in: What if there is someone there I know? Will I hit another aisle or engage? Do I have time? Do I look ok? Can I find it in myself to drum up the mental fortitude to engage someone? What if it is ******? We have history, so maybe, I’ll just keep my eyes open for that person and be ready to duck. I should have worn a hat. People don’t recognize me that often when I have a hat… I should have brought the boys. They keep me occupied.
My heart rate accelerates, while my analytical mind spins scenario after scenario where things end badly, or conversations go well, or there is some fine-intentioned friend who keeps me talking and corners me, back to the wall, for an hour or more.
I pull into the lot and park. My mind is racing so fast I sit in the driver’s seat with my head back against the seat and pause for a full 5 minutes before turning the car off and, breathing deeply, perhaps flexing my hands to release some built up tension, step out of my quiet space and into the chaotic world around me.
It never stops. It is always there.
When I meet a stranger, when I see friends in the distance. When the most lovely, kind woman in the world says, “Let’s have coffee. I want to get to know you!” and suddenly, feelings of an irrational panic, fight or flight, response well up inside as I try to keep my composure.
Yes, there are medications I can take, and frankly, there are some I do take to help me think more clearly and not be so overwhelmed by the gerbils racing on the wheels in my mind.
I pray often, and desperately, and quietly, and deliberately.
Thankfully, most of the time, it helps. A lot.
For the times it doesn’t, there is no conversation we could have that I have not had with myself, in a slightly schizoid and third-personesque way. I am absolutely convinced that this is irrational, embarrassing, and, perversely, totally inescapable state of being.
Yet, it is the world in which I live.
So, where is faith in the middle of this? Where do I find hope and strength?
I lift up my eyes to the hills.From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 121: 1-3, 7-8
For God is good, in the middle of my weakness and my brokenness. He has given me grace and compassion for others that I would not otherwise have been given the capability of experiencing.
It isn’t in the things I do well where I have found God’s hand there to hold so tightly. It is in my dark hours, the empty spaces of being spent beyond reason and a bottomless need beyond measure, where I find the One who keeps my life.
When I am irrational, unreasonable, and filled with fear, He comforts me.
Somehow, that is enough for today.